With a hopeful sound of gridlock cracking, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that he will vote for the House farm bill even though he has “concerns.” He reasons that “doing nothing means we get no changes in the nutrition programs.”
He may be merely pragmatic but we’ll take it. Rural Republicans are tired of the delays and want the five-year subsidy measure enacted. The Senate bill recently passed includes the end of a long-standing practice of funneling direct payments — totaling $47 billion from 2002-2011 — to farmers regardless of crop yields or economic circumstances.
The measure plows those savings into expanding the crop insurance support as well as other assistance that offsets impacts on farmers. It is estimated that such a move will cut $18 billion in government spending over the next decade. That’s not peanuts and both parties see benefits especially in the timing with the high prices of both farm land and many crops.
The sticking point, however, comes with the rest — or should we say the bulk — of what makes up the so-called farm bill and that’s the food stamp program.
The cost of the food stamp program has risen 41 percent — or $75.7 billion — from 2009 to 2011 as a result of the economic downturn. The House wants to cut $20 billion or 3 percent over the next decade. The Democrat-led Senate is offering $4 billion over the same period by tightening requirements.
But the amount of cuts is just one key sticking point. Another is a loophole some states employ to avoid picking up any assistance tab. Under the federal rules, families earning 130 percent of poverty rate — or about $30,000 for a family of four — qualify for food stamps.
Some states grant benefits at 200 percent and avoiding picking up any of the costs. The House wants this loophole closed which seems reasonable and is part of the cut to the federal outlay.
U.S. Rep Collin Peterson, D-Seventh District, agrees cuts will be made but said he can’t see it being more than $8 billion. Well, there’s your room for compromise but not if lawmakers play shell games as one lawmaker said by only agreeing to eliminating fraud and abuse but not cutting benefits.
If fraud and abuse were that easy to cut, it should have been done long ago by the oversight committee of either party. What is realistic now is slowly trimming back the ever-growing food stamp program especially in light of an improving economy, pocketing the savings from the shift in direct payments and basking in the knowledge that Congress can compromise when it wants to.